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Microstock agencies user review with ratings

Updated on April 4, 2013
My all time downloads
My all time downloads

I’ve been a contributor to microstock agencies for over two years now which was sufficient time for me to form an opinion about them. However, before I start expressing my thoughts, I want to underline that this review is only my personal perspective and is strictly individual. So please, don’t take it as a general review of the agencies, as my success/failure with an agency depends on many factors, the main of which are: size of my portfolio and type of images I upload. Which means if I failed to make money at a certain agency, doesn’t mean no-one does, it’s important to keep this in mind.

Every microstock agency is different, some of them have similar features of the websites, but almost all of them have something of their own to make their agency to stand out. That is a good thing of course, but not so good for the new contributors, who often find it quite overwhelming.

When I first started to upload images to multiple agencies, the differences from agency to agency, made me really frustrated, because I had to adopt myself to every agency separately. Those more established agencies, which have been in the business for years made their websites more contributor friendly than the newcomer agencies. Those try too hard to stand out and create some unbelievably time consuming uploading systems. The worst comes six months later, when you realise that all the hours spent to upload images to the agency were wasted as you managed to make just a few insignificant sales there.

Therefore, I thought it would be useful to give a separate rating to the factors which contribute to the overall opinion about an agency. First I will explain shortly each point and then look at the agencies themselves.

Upload System: Usually an upload system is made of a few steps, where images need to be added to the website, then title/description/keywords need to be checked/added, appropriate categories chosen, model/property releases attached (if required).

Review Times: Some agencies have a really short time for reviews, where images are accepted on the same or the next day, whereas at other agencies review times may be stretched out even up to 1 week.

Rejections: This is one thing that is hard for contributors. Level of strictness varies at all the agencies. The same image may be accepted at the most rigorous agency, but rejected there where you were sure it would get accepted.

Sales: This rating reflects my all time sales at a certain agency.

Minimum Payout: Another thing that differ is a limit that needs to be reached in order to claim your earnings.

Contributor earnings: Some agencies use 50/50 system so that both the agency and a contributor receive 50% of the earnings made from an image. However, a more popular system is about 70/30, which means contributor is paid only 30% of the price paid for a photo/illustration.

Subscription: It's a set price for images which allows buyers to purchase more images for less money. This system is a bit disadvantageous for contributors, because buyers pay the same price for extra small or extra large images.

My sales for the last 6 months
My sales for the last 6 months


  • Upload System - 5/5
  • Review Times - 3/5
  • Rejections - 4/5
  • Sales - 5/5
  • Minimum Payout - $75
  • Contributor earnings - 20% or a set price
  • Subscription - $0.25 - $0.38

Shutterstock is my best earning agency, so it's very important for me to get maximum images accepted there. It's quite a strict agency, many photographers/illustrators don't get accepted as contributors even after multiple attempts.

To become a contributor on Shutterstock, one needs to send 10 images for evaluation, once those images are accepted, downloads and earnings come straight away. I was lucky to get accepted from the first attempt, only 2 out of my 10 images where rejected. The best is that already on the next day I sold my first image on Shutterstock.

One of the best things about Shutterstock is that new images are getting instant sales (providing those are good images). It's a great feature in contrast to some agencies where it takes a while for new uploads to appear in search.

Even though on Shutterstock about 90% of my images are sold by subscription, the large amount of sales each month makes it up for me putting this agency on the first position.

I like interface of the account on Shutterstock, it allows you to create sets for different types of images to have a better picture of statistics. In Shutterstock Darkroom contributor can find out which keywords where used to find their images. Also there is a world map, that reveals from which country an image was bought.

iStock Photo

  • Upload System - 3/5
  • Review Times - 3/5
  • Rejections - 3/5
  • Sales - 4/5
  • Minimum Payout - $100
  • Contributor earnings - 15-20%
  • Subscription - $0.69

iStock Photo is one of the most demanding agencies. To get an image accepted there is counted as success. iStock Photo is the second best earning agency for me even though my earnings per download vary from $3.30 to $0.07.

Upload system on iStock Photo is very different to other agencies. Uploading can be done straight on the website, or using a software called "DeepMeta" which can be downloaded from iStock website.

I also like the option to allow images to be added to their partner sites. It brings me extra earnings and helps me to reach my payouts faster.


  • Upload System - 5/5
  • Review Times - 3/5
  • Rejections - 4/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - $100
  • Contributor earnings - 25-50%
  • Subscription - $0.36

Dreamstime was the first microstock agency I joined two years ago. It also became the first site at which I tested suitability of my images for stock. Dreamstime helped me to learn essential things about stock photography and understand what this business is all about.

There is a forum called “Message Boards” where lots of useful stock related information can be found. Very friendly Dreamstime members are always eager to help with advice. The only thing which is taboo to discuss on the forum are rejections, so don’t even try as the thread will get closed anyway.

For a year I had a tiny portfolio there, so I wasn’t surprised that the sales were low. However almost nothing has changed since I began to upload new images on regular basis and increased my portfolio by ten times. There are people with relatively small portfolios (400-800 images) which are doing great, but it’s not my case. I could think that the problem is in my images, yet when I see how well my new uploads are being sold at other agencies keeps the question open for me.

I quite like the uploading system there, it allows to copy information from one image to another, has a spell checker and is easy to navigate.

In contrast to other agencies, at Dreamstime it's the images and not the contributor which are set to levels. It's starting with Level 1 at the time of upload and goes up to Level 5 when an image is sold a certain number of times. So the more an image is downloaded by the buyers, the more expensive it becomes.


  • Upload System - 4/5
  • Review Times - 3/5
  • Rejections - 5/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - $50
  • Contributor earnings - 50%
  • Subscription - $0.36

123Rf is not very choosy, so it's a pleasure to upload photos to their agency. They accept almost all my images. However the sales are slow there for me too. I managed to reach my first payout quite quickly there just because I sold an image with an extended license which earned me $18 in one go. Sadly, images with an extended license aren't purchased often enough.

I get a lot of subscription sales there, which is not totally bad for now, regarding the price. Unfortunately, from January 2013 they are going to make big changes in commission plan which doesn't look too promising for contributors.


  • Upload System - 5/5
  • Review Times - 5/5
  • Rejections - 4/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - 50 credits (1 Credit = £0.75)
  • Contributor earnings - 20-46%
  • Subscription - £0.18

I'm pretty pleased the way my images are accepted at Fotolia. I really like the upload system and the fast review times there. Fotolia has contributor level system, which is relevant to earnings. The more images are sold there, the higher the percentage of earnings becomes. However, I find the whole licensing system a bit difficult to take in. There are a lot of details on how they calculate a price paid to contributor per image.

I get about 80% of subscription sales there which makes it ages to earn enough to reach a payout. At the time of creating my account on Fotolia I lived in UK, that's why my currency is in Pound Sterling.


  • Upload System - 5/5
  • Review Times - 4/5
  • Rejections - 5/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - $50
  • Contributor earnings - 44% - 52%
  • Subscription - $0.30 - $0.35

Similar to Fotolia, Depositphotos has a contributor level system which is fair, but with low sales it will take a few years for me to reach the next level. At Depositphotos images can also be purchased by SMS with price varying between $0.24 - $0.28. Upload system is convenient and reviewers at this agency aren't too strict. About 80% of the sales I make at this agency are by subscription and with lack of volume, it doesn't make a good result at the end of the month.


  • Upload System - 4/5
  • Review Times - 5/5
  • Rejections - 5/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - $50
  • Contributor earnings - 50%
  • Subscription - $0.25 - $0.35

Canstockphoto has great review times, often images are being under review less than a few hours. It's easy to get images accepted at this agency, which is nice for contributors. The only problem for me is that the sales a low just as at some other agencies. The uploading system is quite good, but there is a room for improvement.


  • Upload System - 4/5
  • Review Times - 4/5
  • Rejections - 3/5
  • Sales - 2/5
  • Minimum Payout - $50
  • Contributor earnings - 52%
  • Subscription - N/A

Graphicleftovers is one of the strictest agencies. They didn't accept about 50% of my images, but they do like illustrations a lot. This agency is very fair to their contributors by paying them 52% of commissions on all the sales. There is no subscriptions, so the money is good, but my sales come very slow. However, I managed to sell an extended licence for an image and in one instance I earned $23.40.

Microstock contributor

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I tried my luck at 9 other agencies, but eventually terminated my accounts with them after 6 months because of the insufficient sales. I simply came to the conclusion that I should better spend that extra time taking more photos to increase my portfolio at the agencies which already have showed me their potential with sales.

As a final word, I can say that at the beginning it's worth to give a chance to every agency out there and see which of them your portfolio fits best, but in the long run (if you have enough time) stick to the best 5-7 agencies which bring you the most sales.


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    • Dina Blaszczak profile imageAUTHOR

      Dina Blaszczak 

      5 years ago from Poland

      @ Dan Hi Dan, I do visit forum on SS regularly even though I do not post there and I read a lot of messages from disappointed contributors now. However I seem to be lucky so far (touch the wood!) as I waited for about 7-10 days for my last batch of images to be reviewed this month. I don't know how they choose whose photos to review sooner, but it's sad that there are so many upset contributors at SS these days...

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      From SS FAQ:

      How long does it take for content to be reviewed?

      We review all uploaded content in a fair and detailed manner. As a result, some reviews may take up to seven days.

      Forget about that. The average SS inspection time are 20-30 days.

      By the way, "Clearly the order in which images are approved has nothing to do with the order they were uploaded. If the delay is 2-3 weeks (as it is now) there could be even more than 200 thousand images in front of your "fresh" content".

      No Views - no Sales...

      Contributor Support just keep silence, does not answer to contributor's messages. Exceptional corporate and contributor loyalty policy...


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